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Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Heavy Weather: How Climate Destruction Harms Middle and Lower Income Americans
Press Release

RELEASE: Heavy Weather: How Climate Destruction Harms Middle and Lower Income Americans

Washington, D.C. — In the aftermath of the devastating and tragic superstorm Hurricane Sandy, the Center for American Progress today released “Heavy Weather: How Climate Destruction Harms Middle and Lower Income Americans.” This report analyzes the impact of the 21 extreme weather events in 2011 through 2012 so far that have caused $1 billion or more each in damages. These floods, droughts, heat waves, storms, and wild fires took at least 1,021 lives and caused $126 billion in damages overall. The report is the first to determine that these devastating weather events typically harmed households with income at or below the national median household income. These middle- and lower-income Americans bore the burden of these devastating events.

“The recent storms, floods, drought, and wild fires are like biblical plagues raining down on middle- and lower-income Americans. These people often lack the resources to quickly recover from these devastating extreme weather events,” noted Daniel J. Weiss, co-author of the report and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center for American Progress. “Scientists warn that climate change will exacerbate the severity and/or frequency of these extreme weather episodes. Unless we reduce the carbon pollution responsible for climate change, the damage from these events will continue to harm middle- and lower-income Americans.”

Many of the most economically destructive 2011 and 2012 extreme weather events harmed people with average household incomes below the U.S. median annual household income of $51,914:

  • Floods swamped households in affected counties that earned an average of $44,547 annually—14 percent less than the U.S. median income.
  • Drought and heat waves affected counties with households that earned an average of $49,340 annually—roughly 5 percent less than the U.S. median income.
  • Wildfires, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms devastated areas with households that earned an average of $50,352 annually—3 percent less than the U.S. median income.

Tropical storms and hurricanes were the only highly destructive extreme weather events that affected better-off areas on average since January 2011.

The “Heavy Weather” report includes numerous examples of the cruel phenomenon sometimes called “the climate gap”—when climate change has a disproportionate impact on society’s less fortunate citizens.

  • Hurricane Isaac inflicted $2 billion in damages in Louisiana and Mississippi in September 2012. The average annual income of the households in affected counties was 18 percent below the U.S. median annual household income.
  • Joplin, Missouri, which experienced the deadliest tornado in U.S. history in May 2011, has a poverty rate of 19.6 percent.
  • The 2011 Bastrop, Texas, wild fire burned more than 34,000 acres and destroyed nearly 1,700 homes in a county where 14 percent of the households are at or below the poverty line.

Texas has suffered from 10 extreme weather events with $1 billion or more in damages in the past two years. Fifteen other states also had at least five such costly natural disasters. The “Heavy Weather” report includes income data for the areas declared a disaster due to these events in these states.

“The first Obama administration adopted significant carbon pollution reductions from motor vehicles. It must now establish pollution standards for existing power plants and other industrial sources to slow climate change and the outbursts of extreme weather,” added Weiss. “We must also help communities become more resilient to extreme weather. Finally, the most vulnerable people deserve assistance to help them cope with future devastating storms, floods, heat waves, and other natural disasters.”

To speak Daniel J. Weiss about this report, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.481.8181 or [email protected].